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Posted October 11, 2011

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October 2011: Absorbing Expertise of Whole Nation

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

Education is the clear hot-button issue of the day. It’s emotional, personal and everyone has an opinion, whether they have children in school or not.

The good news is that the increased attention given to education today is bringing people together from all over the country to try to find solutions. Private business, public entities, even media outlets are taking on education in meaningful, in-depth ways. NBC News, for example, is exploring ways to “reinvent America as an Education Nation,” looking at topics such as school accountability and equality.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is promoting reforms and recognizing states for their efforts. He’s been meeting with state officials and school superintendents to gather their ideas.

The Department of Education isn’t the only federal agency interested in improving public education. The Department of Defense also is doing what it can by distributing federal funds to school districts to improve schools on military bases.

In all of these instances, Albuquerque is included and benefiting in many ways. We’re receiving attention like never before and continue to be invited to share our experiences and make suggestions. We’ve gained a national voice.

Mayor Richard Berry and I were invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Education Nation Summit two weeks ago at NBC’s headquarters in New York. NBC brought in educators, parents, policymakers, elected officials, business leaders and students from around the country to discuss the challenges facing public education along with possible solutions. It served as a good reminder that the problems we face in New Mexico are the same ones school districts all over the country wrestle with.

You may have seen the streaming video from the summit on the APS website, and the clip from our appearance is still there.

We were involved in a panel discussion called “Going Local: What a City Can Do for Schools.” City mayors and school superintendents gathered to talk about what works and what doesn’t in different places, and how cities can help public schools. City government takes a greater role in some school districts than it does in others.

Here in Albuquerque, the city and APS, along with the local business community, UNM and CNM, have formed a formidable partnership that aims to improve education from pre-school all the way through college graduation. It’s unlike any arrangement I’ve ever seen in my career.

The mayor and I talked about this partnership during our panel discussion, and agreed that collaboration like this will get us a lot further down the road than pointing fingers at each other.

I met with Sec. Duncan in Washington, D.C., last week and he seemed impressed with efforts we’re making in APS to improve the graduation rate and reform low-performing schools.

Sec. Duncan supported changes we’re making to improve the graduation rate such as extending the day for credit recovery and encouraging fifth-year high school students to continue their education. He said it’s right for us to measure four- and five-year graduation rates, and he would like to see New Mexico implement more collaborative, well-thought-out reforms.

The secretary also seemed please with progress in our re-purposing of Ernie Pyle Middle School and Rio Grande High. Both schools are receiving funds through the federal School Improvement Grant. He asked us to submit more information and Ernie Pyle could ultimately serve as an example to other schools around the country. Albuquerque is contributing solutions.

As part of the Washington trip, we were invited to visit the Department of Defense, where they asked us for our input on what it would take to improve the educational environment at Wherry Elementary. It may take a complete re-build of the 59-year-old school, but it appears funds are there.

There’s no magic bullet for solving the challenges we struggle with in public education. But Albuquerque will continue to share in the national discussion, and it’s up to all of us to work together for the good of our students.

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